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Best of Food and Drink: Vital Vittles: Best Food & Drink 

click to enlarge Bangkok Stir Fried Pad Thai with vegetables, tofu and shrimp at the Elephant Bar. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Bangkok Stir Fried Pad Thai with vegetables, tofu and shrimp at the Elephant Bar.

Best New Restaurant

Readers poll winner Elephant Bar Restaurant

7585 N. Academy Blvd., 532-0032

Is it a watering hole for local Republicans? Nope. This big-enough-for-elephants eatery has an atmosphere busy with animal-print dcor, old luggage and vintage posters, an on-the-go wait staff, palm trees and party music. The hardwood bar is set apart from the dining area and evokes a swank deco-era hotel bar in a faraway place. The menu is based on huge portions of Asian-American and tropical fare. Along with classic sandwiches, burgers and even fish tacos, the menu also features a section of "Pan Pacific Specialties," which includes scrumptious-sounding Wok Seared Shanghai Cashew Chicken ($10.75) and MisoYaki Fired Grilled Salmon ($13.95). They even have a special kids menu that serves up Noodles with Marinara Sauce for $2.95 or an Elephant Kid's Burger for $3.95. Top it all off with a Creamy Crme Brulee or an Arctic Mountain Sundae and you'll be waddling out the door like a rhino climbing out of a mud bath. -- GTS

Best Restaurant For Herbivores

Readers poll winner Adam's Mountain Cafe

110 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1430

It's Sunday morning. Brunch time: that magical chunk of minutes that demands reverence beyond a boring bowl of cereal at home. You know you're headed to Adam's; you simply can't decide between the Green Mountain Falls or the Harvest Crepes or the Orange Almond French Toast ... or will you be bold and try something new? Adam's draws hordes of folks every weekend for their famous breakfast, thanks to their unique talent and creative menu. Adam's is a pioneer in the world of vegetarian culinary exploration, proving that more than just salt, pepper and steam can spice up a healthy meal. Veg-heads rejoice! Someone named Adam is looking out for you. -- MS

click to enlarge Jesse Cotton Stone, between mouthfuls at Adams Mountain Caf. - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Jesse Cotton Stone, between mouthfuls at Adams Mountain Caf.

Best Restaurant For Carnivores

Readers poll winner The Famous

31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333

Hard-core carnivores belly up regularly for The Famous' famous 10-ounce or 14-ounce filet mignon, the porterhouse for two, the Kansas City bone-in strip, the rib-eye or slow-roasted, sinfully juicy prime rib. The pice de rsistance: the prime 16-ounce Maytag blue cheese New York strip. Even salad lovers can appreciate The Famous' expertise with a piece of meat. The Steak Salad is a masterful Caesar salad topped with juicy grilled strips of strip steak, cooked to your liking. Think pink. Just looking around the bar at patrons slicing into hefty slabs of beef will set your mouth watering. -- KCE

Best Innovative Menu

Readers poll winner Sencha

331 S. Nevada Ave., 632-8287

We'll let Chef Brent Beavers' eclectic creations speak for themselves: Sencha's almost-famous crab cakes over cucumber and apple salad with sesame dressing; Sencha's salad of organic greens, candied walnuts, Amish Gorgonzola and pomme fruit with smoked tea vinaigrette; campanelle pasta with snap peas, bacon and rabbit meatballs in a carbonara sauce; crispy seared duck breast over saffron couscous and fresh vegetables with Colorado peach and ancho coulis; grilled wild boar loin with coconut and red curry sauce and red plum bamboo rice. Not on the menu but served as a special the other night: steamed green lip mussels over udon noodles with ponzu soy sauce and fresh vegetables. Bold, adventurous, innovative. That spells Sencha. -- KCE

click to enlarge Andrew Castillo attacks a Spam sandwich at Carlas Kitchen. - CREIGHTON SMITH
  • Creighton Smith
  • Andrew Castillo attacks a Spam sandwich at Carlas Kitchen.

Best Spam Sandwich

Editorial pick Carla's Kitchen

1512 N. Academy Blvd., Suite A, 573-9882

From the ruffled cafe curtains to the farm animal knickknacks scattered throughout, this place hollers "Midwestern diner." One look at the menu and it's confirmed. A bona fide Spam sandwich, and it's a good one at that. The Original Spam is sliced and fried (not sauted!) to bring out the spices and flavorings in the processed, pressed meat product. Choose your favorite bread and condiments -- lettuce, tomato and mayo gives you the suggestion of a BLT with less crunch and more substance. A side of fries and a pop makes it feel just like you landed in the 1950s. -- GTS

Best Gyros

Readers poll winner Mediterranean Cafe

118 E. Kiowa St., 633-0115

The Citadel, 750 Citadel Drive East, # 1088, 574-5839

click to enlarge The Front Range BBQ has turned Old Colorado City into barbecue central. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • The Front Range BBQ has turned Old Colorado City into barbecue central.

Mediterranean Caf is a rarity -- an excellent ethnic restaurant that opened its first store in the midst of fast-food franchises at the mall, the Citadel Mall to be specific. By the time they opened a second shop downtown, their reputation for the best gyros in Colorado Springs had been sealed. The pita bread is warm and chewy, the meat strongly seasoned, the cucumber and tomatoes crisp and fresh, and the delicious dressing as refreshing as a summer breeze. The gyro is the perfect meal-in-a-sandwich and Med Caf's gyros are as good as they come. Here at the Independent, we love our new building but miss our old location, a quick trip down the alley to Mediterranean Caf. -- KCE

Best Barbecue Readers

poll winner Front Range BBQ

2330 W. Colorado Ave., 632-2596

Tucked into a cute little Victorian cottage on the eastern edge of Old Colorado City, Front Range Barbeque replaced an Asian noodle bowl joint and has turned OCC into barbecue central. The owners pride themselves on meticulous preparation of a variety of meats, all smoked and as lean as possible. The menu features ribs, beef brisket, half chickens and chicken breasts, and the classic Southern king of barbecue: pulled pork. There's a small bar with a little television, the perfect place to wash down a pork barbecue sandwich with a cold beer while inhaling those delicious smoky fumes. -- KCE

Best Japanese Restaurant

Readers poll winner Jun Japanese Restaurant

click to enlarge Olivia Yunita with a plateful of Grand Marnier Prawns and Shrimp with Sweet Basil and Lemon Grass at Chopsticks. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Olivia Yunita with a plateful of Grand Marnier Prawns and Shrimp with Sweet Basil and Lemon Grass at Chopsticks.

1760 Dublin Blvd., 531-9368

Hands up if you've heard of the Yummy Roll. If you haven't, it is time you ate at Jun. Since April 1991, Chef Jun has been serving freshly made sushi, gyoza and tempura as well as his specialty rolls, the Yummy being one of the most exquisite. Somehow he forms a roll of salmon, avocado and rice wrapped around lightly battered prawns without the aid of a seaweed wrap -- all sparingly coated it in a light sesame sauce. Tasty and healthy, Jun's food is a pleasure and it has carved out its own niche in contemporary Japanese cuisine. -- WY

Best Thai Restaurant

Readers poll winner Wild Ginger

3020 W. Colorado Ave., 634-5025

Is there a more pleasurable vice than Thai iced tea? O temptress, seductress, sugary mistress of curried cuisine -- how you candy our brains and take the pain away! While you sip on the tea, try one of the euphoric coconut milk soups as a starter, before diving into a heaping plate of rice and vegetables, seafood, tofu or meat. Wild Ginger serves up authentic Thai cuisine with tantalizing sauces guaranteed to lace your memory. There are options ranging from a typical American concept of "spicy" to "Thai-hot" for the brave and those with iron palates. Wild Ginger also hosts one of the nicest staffs in town, and meals are usually promptly served. It's definitely the best bang for your Baht. -- MS

Best Upscale Chinese Food

Editorial pick Chopsticks

120 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 579-9111

click to enlarge Billy English and Kevin Chemali at Cafe El Paso. - CREIGHTON SMITH
  • Creighton Smith
  • Billy English and Kevin Chemali at Cafe El Paso.

If Chinese food and an upscale environment seems an odd couple, Chopsticks shows why opposites attract. Set in a restive room with spacious booths, husband-wife team Dave Bless and Kiyon Kim turn out innovative plates that raise Chinese from food to cuisine. Chopped chicken with lettuce cups exemplifies the value of contrast on the table -- warm, soft chicken mixed with cool, crisp lettuce leaves yields a savory hand-held treat that refreshes as it satisfies. The heat turns up with Firecracker Prawns, fried shrimps buried in a bright orange sauce loaded with minced garlic, scallion, and spicy Chinese peppers. Thai dishes add curry and lemongrass to the mix. -- DTR

Best Downscale Chinese Food

Editorial pick China Wok

6530 S. Academy Blvd., 527-1888

South Siders rejoice! North Siders pack the family into the minivan and come on down to China Wok for the best Chinese food in our area code, hands down. No matter what you order -- from the exotic Singapore noodles to well-known favorites like Kung Pao shrimp and General Tso's chicken -- the kitchen always delivers. Share a light and crispy scallion pancake or the flavorful char siu, traditional Chinese barbequed pork. Better yet, try house specials such as shrimp with garlic sauce or their seasonal dish: fresh long green beans with your choice of topping in amazingly rich and spicy brown sauce. Lunch specials include your choice of entree plus a selection of soups, appetizers and rice, all for only $4.50 to $5.50. --DTR

Best Mecca for Indian Food

click to enlarge Marissa Suzie Q Sandoval with burger, fries and a shake at Gunther Toodys. - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Marissa Suzie Q Sandoval with burger, fries and a shake at Gunther Toodys.

Editorial pick Area around Union and Academy

India Palace

5644 N. Academy Blvd., 535-9196

Mirch Masala

5047 N. Academy Blvd., 599-0003

A Taste of India

4820 Flintridge Drive, 598-3428

There's something mystical happening in the Vista Grande neighborhood. It's centered on the intersection of Academy and Union boulevards. At a glance, the area looks like a boring busy intersection filled with strip malls, chain restaurants and cookie-cutter discount stores. In fact, this area of town is the place to go when you can't stop thinking about mulligatawny soup. At the heart of it all is Mirch Masala, home of a luscious lunch buffet and soothing upbeat decor. From there, head half a mile east to A Taste of India, where your entrees are spiced to your liking -- merely tingling your taste buds or clearing your sinuses. A mere jump to the west (north on Academy) finds you at the new India Palace nibbling on their naan. It's cause for a pilgrimage. --GTS

click to enlarge The Omelette Parlor: Antidote to last nights revelry. - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • The Omelette Parlor: Antidote to last nights revelry.

Best Taco, Best Green Chili, Best Mexican Food

Readers poll winner Caf El Paso

3840 N. Nevada Ave., 634-3940

Coming up on its third birthday, Caf El Paso has filled the authentic Mexican comfort food niche in the center of the city. On North Nevada, just across from the George Birdsall Power Plant, this comfortable, cozy eatery swept our readers' poll Mexican food categories. Their green chili is powerful and meatless, bright green not gray and watery, made with the freshest jalapeos. The tacos are delicate and flavorful. And the rest of the menu offers standards as well as surprises. Regulars who never miss Thursday's lunch special of fish tacos made with marinated and grilled talapia have demanded that it be placed on the regular menu. The ranchero-style steaks are juicy, spicy and delicious. Don't forget breakfast, starting at 7:30 a.m., featuring picadillo, chorizo or machaca with eggs, huevos rancheros, and a variety of breakfast burritos and omelets, all smothered, if you wish, with Caf El Paso's smoky ranchero sauce or their killer green chili. This place keeps getting better and better. Expect new menu items in the fall. -- KCE

Best Diner

click to enlarge Triple treats at Michelles. - BLANCA MIDDLEBROOK
  • Blanca Middlebrook
  • Triple treats at Michelles.

Readers poll winner Gunther Toody's

3952 N. Academy Blvd., 597-1950 5794 Palmer Park Blvd., 570-1952

Betcha don't know the origin of this diner's name: Officer Gunther Toody was a New York cop in the 1960 television sitcom Car 54 Where Are You? Walk in the front doors of the diner and you feel like you're on the set -- it's hoppin' with a wait staff dressed in bobby socks and sporting red lipstick and pigtails, serving items from a menu full of comfort standbys. For a retro snack, we recommend the Elvis Fries (smothered in sausage gravy and cheddar cheese) with an old-fashioned phosphate. And dinner? Rumor has it that they have the best meatloaf in town. With a new location on the east side of town, you now have two ways to jump into this local time warp. -- GTS

Best Hangover Food

Editorial pick

Best Breakfast

Readers poll winner The Omelette Parlor

900 E. Fillmore St., 633-7770

Bah! Gaah! Headache! Aversion to light! Nausea! You imbibe a bit too much last night? Never you fret, my honey. The Omelette Parlor is your antidote to last night's revelry. Their trademarked trifecta of meat, eggs and cheese will nourish your ravaged tummy while their cheap, delicious Bloody Marys and mimosas will dull the horrific pounding in your skull as well as gear you up for next night's a-drinkin'. Dig in, sip up and feel that pain just melt away. -- AR

click to enlarge Jeff Martin taste tests the brew at Phantom Canyon Brewery. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Jeff Martin taste tests the brew at Phantom Canyon Brewery.

Best Salad Bar

Editorial pick Mediterranean Cafe

118 E. Kiowa St., 633-0115

750 Citadel Drive East, # 1088, 574-5839

From the bright pepper, tomato and cucumber-filled Greek salad, to smooth, rich hummus and baba ghanouj, to marinated olives and mushrooms, to Mediterranean salad -- they're all scrumptious. There's more: pasta, artichokes, couscous. You can mix, match and fill your plate for $5.99 per pound. The salad is served with a warm pita and you can top any of it off with salty feta cheese and their delicious house dressing. Eat in, get it to go and bring your friends. -- CSB

Best Place For Dessert

Readers poll winner Michelle Chocolatiers and Ice Cream

122 N. Tejon St., 633-5089

click to enlarge Vietnamese egg rolls at Saigon Caf. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Vietnamese egg rolls at Saigon Caf.

All good things involve ice cream or chocolate. And seeing as how Michelle Chocolatiers and Ice Cream involves both, well, that explains why Michelle's is the best place in Colorado Springs for dessert. Michelle's makes their own butterscotch, caramel and chocolate fudge toppings that coat their variety of homemade ice creams. Michelle's also makes cherry cordials, truffles, peanut brittle and a whole case full of candy to make you drool. -- SG

Best Local Brewery

Readers poll winner Phantom Canyon

2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800

Brewmaster Joe Hull and his staff do have a gift with grains. In a state and city jam-packed with microbrews, it's no small feat to stand out among the rest. Old favorites such as the Queen's Blonde and Railyard Ale keep thirsty patrons coming back for more, and seasonal releases such as Phantom's Barley Wine are cause for extra celebration. Phantom's beers range from light to dark, amber, bitter and characteristics in between. Phantom Canyon Brewery also enjoys the benefit of fueling a superb restaurant and one of the best pool halls in town. -- MS

Best Tomato Soup

Editorial pick Montague's

1019 S. Tejon St., 520-0672

click to enlarge Marilyn Hicks digs into the pumpkin and tomato soup at Montagues. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Marilyn Hicks digs into the pumpkin and tomato soup at Montagues.

118 W. Colorado Ave., 447-1004

When the weather outside is frightful, think of curling up in a comfy wing chair at Grandma's house with a warm cup of soup and a good book. Montague's provides the cozy setting, with antique tables, wing chairs, mismatched china and a fireplace at the south location. They also provide a pumpkin tomato soup that might have come from your grandma's collection of favorite recipes. The co-owner, Jeff Weller, found the recipe in an antique trunk and incorporated it into the menu. It's a soup that's thick and creamy, with a base of tomato and pumpkin with chunks of fresh tomato, celery, onion and green pepper throughout. It's seasoned with ground pepper and other spices and served with a hunk of foccacia bread. Mmmm... -- GTS

Best Fish Entrees

Editorial pick Sencha

331 S. Nevada Ave., 632-8287

Warning to sea creatures the world over:Look out! Having conquered cow, pig, elk and wild boar, Brent Beavers is moving from turf to surf.Carrying a reputation as one of the most adventurous chefs in the country, Beavers' nightly fish specials include only the freshest catch available and provide a stage for his creativity. How about wild Alaskan salmon with cherries and a chocolate sauce, or would you prefer the strawberry relish? Perhaps catfish with mashed sweet potatoes and Tabasco butter sounds better? If lunch is more your thing, our mad culinary scientist may have created a monster: scallops grilled -- that's right, grilled -- on the half shell with a hint of coconut and hot Thai chili. If you only eat to live, Sencha's fish and scallops will flip you in a flash.-- DTR

Best New Haven For Veg Heads

Editorial pick Colorado Farm and Art Market

click to enlarge The glow of 15C. - CREIGHTON SMITH
  • Creighton Smith
  • The glow of 15C.

South of the Colorado Avenue bridge on Cimino Drive

Open Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., year-round

The Colorado Farm and Art Market is a recent addition to town and on its way to becoming an institution. A neat cluster of tents spring up each Saturday morning under the Colorado Avenue bridge at Cimino Drive to house farmers, food producers, art vendors and mouth-watering food stalls. In the land of strip malls it's reassuring that there's a place where independent-minded and vegetarians can find community. Shop for organically grown produce, browse the local artwork and share breakfast with bushels of fellow organics in a glorious start to the weekend. -- WY

Best Vietnamese Restaurant

Readers poll winner Saigon Cafe

20 E. Colorado Ave., 633-2888

Now there's even more room to enjoy the fantastic, flavorful dishes at the Saigon Cafe. Recently expanded to seat twice as many hungry folks as before, Saigon Cafe still offers the best Vietnamese food in town. Make sure to try their specialty noodle bowls topped with mint, sprouts, peanuts and anything from tofu, egg rolls or meat or try their sates chock full of onion and peanuty goodness. -- CSB

click to enlarge Wines from Wines of Colorado. - BLANCA MIDDLEBROOK
  • Blanca Middlebrook
  • Wines from Wines of Colorado.

Best Place To Taste Colorado Wines

Editorial pick Wines of Colorado

8045 W. Highway 24, Cascade, 684-0900

Wines of Colorado is tucked cozily along the creek in Cascade. Centered in the store is a kiosk of Colorado bounty, from purples to whites, and all are available to whet your palate. The knowledgeable staff will pour and pour again until you find the wine that tempts your taste buds or matches your meal. If you are dining in, take a glass of your favorite back to your table or pick up a bottle (or three) to go. -- CSB

Best Martini, Best Upscale Bar

Readers poll winner: 15 C

15 E. Bijou St., Suite C, 635-8303

There's not a whole lot of intimacy to be found in Colorado Springs' downtown bar scene. Most clubs stifle conversation with electronic beats and the din of hundreds of people. Not 15 C. This cozy little wood-and-leather cave offers the most intimate bar experience in the city along with some of the best drinks. The menu is packed with invariably well-prepared specialty martinis and classic cocktails, a short but erudite wine list, sparklers and aperitifs. Cheap it ain't, but the atmosphere is wonderful enough and the drinks are prepared with deft hands. -- AR

Best Sunday Comfort Food, Best Fried Chicken

Editorial pick: Js Super Southern Sunday Supper

818 N. Nevada Ave., 520-5095

Its Sunday and the after-church crowd, still decked out in their finery, converge on the little diner at the front of Js Motel on North Nevada Avenue. They are in search of an old-fashioned Southern Sunday supper, all you can eat, like their grandmothers served back in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama or Mississippi. Add to the mix a few Colorado College students looking for a good home-cooked meal. Chef Andre Perkins understands this primal ritual and serves up barbecued ribs, fried chicken, ham, collard greens, mashed potatoes, yams, baked beans, corn, mac and cheese, blackberry cobbler, sweet potato pie. Eat slowly; save room for seconds. Whatever you do, try the fried chicken, absolutely the best in town, available for dine-in or take-out seven days a week. KCE

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